Thematic Study on A.K.Ramanujans Poetry

Introduction: A. K. Ramanujan is one of the interesting poets in the 20th century Indian English literature. His timeline is between 1929 and 1994. His poetry attained its popularity in 1960s. He is considered as the voice of modern India, though he shows his deep root in Indian tradition and culture. Among his contemporaries A. K. Ramanujan seems grave and sincere due to variety of themes prevailed in his poetry. He is not only a poet but also the greatest translator. He is famous for his translations rather than other creative works. His Major Works: An astonished classic Ramanujan has written numerous poems.

They were gathered and put in four volumes under one title The Collected Poems. Of these four volumes The Striders, Relations, and Second Sight were published in his life time. His fourth collection The Black Hen was published after his life time in 1995. He is a transnational figure and trans-disciplinary scholar. His academic research ranged across five languages: Tamil, Kannada, English, Telugu and Sanskrit. His major translation works are The Interior Landscapes: Love Poems from a Classical Tamil Anthology, Speaking of Shiva and Hymns for the Drowning.

Themes in his Poetry: His Collected poems represents the rich sensitivity, intellectual rigour and feeling. Most of his poems though intensely personal, have a universal dimension of their own. The main themes of his poetry are Indian culture and tradition, family and relations, past memories, art, love, despair, death, myth, hybridism, etc. ,. They are full of humour, irony, paradox and sudden reversals. He is really a poet of memory, commotion, childhood impressions, fear, sorrow, common sufferings and conflicts. Art as a Theme:

The expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting and sculpture is known as ‘art’. Poetry and other works produced by such skill and imagination can be come under this productive term ‘art’. In the poem “The Black Hen” Ramanujan portrays the art of writing poetry. He explains that poetry should come naturally as leaves come to a tree. This natural way of writing the poetry is evidenced through the lines: It must come as leaves to a tree or not at all. (1-3) Further the following lines, …… the black hen with the red round eye n the embroidery stitch by stitch. (5-8) -show the painful and troublesome kind of writing poetry. Here the poet compares the black hen with the poetry. The term ‘embroidery’ refers to the luxurious and decorative work which is done for the poetry. The phrase ‘stitch by stitch’ indicates the hard labour done for writing poetry. The poet also expresses the respectful fear of the poets through the lines: the black hen stares with its round red eye and you are afraid. (11-13) According to the poet if a creative work is done once, fear grips the maker or he stares at his own work.

Thus the entire poem “Black Hen” deals with the symbol of art and creativity. The image of the black hen symbolizes poetry. Theme of Time: Time is a dimension in which events can be ordered from the past through the present into the future, and also the measure of durations of events and intervals between them. Time has long been a major subject of study in religion, philosophy, science and art. Ramanujan focusses on the theme of time in his poem “At Zero” The first stanza of the poem “At Zero” has an image of clock.

The poet says that “when the clocks lose their tongues” and “when the hands fall off” there will be no occurrence of sound. There is a symbol of zero with this silence of clock. It is also the symbol of emptiness too. The image of clock and pendulum in the clock surely reveal the passage of time. There are further more references of time through the lines: …… time pieces on wrists and towers lose time. (5-7) In Ramanujan’s view, the time is totally lost by the time pieces on wrists and towers.

Though the first stanza speaks about the loss of time, the second stanza concentrates on the motion of time, which is considered as the victory of time. The lines which express the victory of time are following: though the wheels turn, the cogs catch: at the centre of the white, black, or coin face, the axle, dot of metal, turns continually:….. (10-14) Here the phrase ‘turns continually’ perfectly matches with the movement of time. The two hands of the clock and twelve numbers certainly indicate the time and its message.

Ramanujan opines that the twelve numbers say nothing when they are not touched by the two hands inserted in the clock. He additionally tells that time just keeps on moving. In an airport people are waiting for their flight to take off, they go on measuring the time. In Ramanujan’s description their eyes look but can’t see anything and their ears listen but cannot hear anything. At any place at anytime, time is not going to stop its function. It moves on and does its duty. It remembers the readers an Indian proverb “Time and tide waits for none”. Theme of Indian Culture and Tradition:

Each country of the world has its own culture, with many customs, traditions and refined qualities. The culture of India refers to the religions beliefs, customs, traditions, languages, ceremonies, arts, values and the way of life in India and its people. Ramanujan’s poetry reveals his strong faith in Indian culture and tradition. The second stanza of the poem “At Zero” starts with the line “blank Brahmin-widow faces”. This blank widow faces make the readers to remember a typical Indian widow. It expresses the Hindu way of life in India. The last stanza of the poem concentrates on the potter-saint, who is ready to offer his child to God.

He resembles a typical Indian saint and the ancient culture of India. The lines about the potter-saint are: ….. potter-saint singing hymns, dancing his god, kneaded with his feet the soft red clay, burying alive his youngest child. (38-42) The potter-saint considers his job only to pray to God. Ramanjuan has given a biblical reference here. Moreover the potter-saint resembles biblical character Abraham. His poem “Fire” also has a certain Indian traditions. It has a paradoxical view on fire. It symbolizes both creation and destruction of fire.

The second stanza of the poem “Fire” portrays the destruction of fire with the lines: Ordinary wood blocks delivered at the door. A box of matches bought at the corner store. And here this supernatural fire that can burn the house down, maybe the whole neighbourhood, (7-10) Here the term the ‘supernatural fire’ makes the readers to think of Indian rituals which can be done with fire. Theme of Hindu Culture: The Indian Hindu culture is a culture of love, respect, honoring others and humbling one’s own ego so that the inner nature, which is naturally pure and modest, will shine forth.

He has described some of the important Hindu traditions and culture of India. His poem “Of Mothers, among Other Things” is concentrated on the descriptions of his mother, where there are certain elements of Hindu mythology. In the third stanza her hands are compared with an eagle: a wet eagle’s two black pink-crinkled feet one talon crippled. Here the image of the eagle does not seem to go well with the fleeting, delicate and fragile personality. Though this comparison is unusual, in Hindu mythology the eagle is the vehicle of the Supreme God, Vishnu. The poet associates the eagle with the female figure.

There is an indication in this poem that after his father’s death, his mother assumes the role of his father. There is a little bunch of four poems around the Hindu thought. They are “A Hindoo to his body”, “The Hindoo: he doesn’t Hurt a Fly or a Spider either”, “The Hindoo: he reads his Gita and is calm at all events” and “The Hindoo: the Only Risk”. These are the poems from his first collection The Striders. These titles themselves show his strong faith in Hindu culture. The opening lines of “The Hindoo to His Body” are: ‘Dear pursuing presence,/ dear body and so on.

This is an example of Hindu beliefs regarding body. (Chindhale 70-71) Immigrant writings in his poetry: His poem “Salamanders” describes the mentality of an immigrant in a foreign country. It seems that the poet deals with this poem his own experience in North America. Salamanders are really legendry creatures. The poet presents the pure image of salamanders to portray the immigrants. In the second stanza of the poem the term ‘we’ refers to the immigrants. The phrase ‘flee in panic’ expresses the status of the immigrants, who are in need to work and who wish to work hard.

The poet describes the salamanders in the third stanza through the following lines: Salamanders I’d heard live in fire and drink the flame as we the air: (10-12) Like human beings breath with the help of the air for our survival, salamanders drink the flame and live in fire. The poet calls the salamanders ‘naked earthlings’. He additionally portrays its beauty through the lines : …… poor yet satin to the eye, velvet to the touch. (16,17) Ramanujan opines that immigrants are like salamanders.

They are burning inside and eating fire such as tension, anxiety, urge to lead their life in foreign countries. They have flame within their heart for using the prosperity of foreign lands to lead their life. Their sad and pathetic condition of dependence of the foreign lands is explained in the poem “Salamanders”. Like the lizards waiting for the dragonflies, immigrants are waiting for their ambitions to be fulfilled. It can be viewed further as the waiting for the production of new generation. The new generation refers to the particular generations in which the new born people are going to surprise the foreigners.

Here the hopelessness of the poet to have such a wonderful generation is revealed through the lines: only Hollywood aliens who know us only through legends….. (33,34) Thus the poem “Salamanders” deals with the emotions and feelings of immigrants. Theme on War: His poem “Salamanders” tells the readers about the war and its worst quality. He tells the readers about the things, which cannot be happened in this world. They are revealed through the lines: yellow shade in yellow shadow, empty hub of the turning wheel, mother and father of farever unborn, obeying edicts written in smoke by war for countries hat never were- (21-25) These lines mean that there cannot be an empty hub in the turning wheel, there cannot be a yellow shade in the yellow shadow and there cannot be father and mother for the unborn child. With these illustrations Ramanujan explains that there cannot be a country where there is a war. His Poetry on Admiring Traditions: “Foundlings in the Yukon” of Ramanujan is written carefully for adoring and admiring traditions and old age. This poem shows his great faith in ‘old’. He really respects the old age. Along with the admiration of tradition Ramanujan shows the subordination of modernized and fashionable world.

His adoration of tradition is expressed through the lines: ten thousand years after their time, they took root within forty-eight hours and sprouted a candelabra of eight small leaves. (10-15) The explanation of these lines is that the six unbroken grains, which were found by the miners, were picked and planted after ten thousand years of their lifetime. It definitely shows the greatest and superior quality of the ‘old’ and tradition. The poet shows the inferior quality of modern world through the following lines: A modern Alaskan lupine, I’m told, waits three years to come to flower,….. (16-20) The ancient grains start to grow with in two days where as the modern lupine waits to grow for three years. It shows the subordination of the modern period to the ancient time. The poet’s respect for old age is further revealed by the lines: older than the oldest things alive, having skipped a million falls and the registry of tree-rings, suddenly younger by an accident of flowering(41-46). Nostalgic Experiences in his Poems: Past always hunts Ramanujan. His poetry is the poetry of restored emotions and feelings.

Most of his poems are reflecting his memory. His poem “Obituary” discusses the death of his father and his own sufferings. In the beginning of the poem he has written: Father when he passed on left dust on a table full of paper left debts and daughters, (1-4) These lines express the poet’s mourning for his loneliness. He feels the pain of missing his lovable father in this poem. The following lines too tell the readers about the pathetic condition of her mother and the burden of annual ritual. They are: And he left us a changed mother and more than one annual ritual. 53-56) His poem “Three Dreams” also has certain elements of nostalgic experiences. It is about the fellowship given to him for doing research. There he thinks about his worst condition of shelter where he belonged at the time of getting that fellowship. It is shown through the lines: Before I knew it I was in a ruined house lit by rains of dust in the light sleeping through the cracks and the broken windows. (9-13) The poet’s bad condition of the shelter at the time of getting his fellowship is ruminated by the poet in the poem “Three Dreams”. Family Relationships in his Poetry:

Almost all of Ramanujan’s poems are written with his own feelings, emotions and memories. His own family life, his childhood memories, his pleasures, struggles, sufferings, love, etc are mostly the subject matters of his poetry. “Obituary” which is a poem about his own father and “Of Mothers, among Other Things”, a poem dedicated to his mother are the best examples for the elements of family relations. His poem “Relations” deals with the poet’s strong faith in family. He describes the behaviour of the family members through many of his poems. In his “Of Mothers, among Other Things” he describes his mother.

For instance in the beginning of the poem the poem’s lines are: I smell upon this twisted blackbone tree the silk and white petal of my mother’s youth. (1-4) There are many more things revealed in this poem about his mother. His poem “Small reflections on a Great House” describes the festivals and ceremonies celebrated by the members of the family with the great enthusiasm. The kinship relationship between him and his family members is explained here. The following lines are the evidences: son-in-laws who quite forget their mothers, but stay to check ccounts or teach arithmetic to nieces. Indeed his family members are the characters of most of his poetry. There are plenty of words related to family relationships like ‘father’, ‘mother’, ‘grand parents’, ‘daughter’, ‘wife’, ‘grandson”, etc. they mainly do the functions of decorating ornaments in his poetry. Personal Elements in his Poetry: All of his poems discuss his personal life. He is experimental in his poetic style to give free expression to his feelings and emotions. Personally he is an Indian and does not show any kind of inclination or fascination towards English or the American poetry.

Moreover he is not influenced by the modernism of English poetry. He belongs to a traditional Hindu family. He has written many poems related to Hindu mythology and Hindu faith. That projects one of his personal elements. His poem “Salamanders” is a poem which deals with his own experiences in a foreign country. There are many of his poems, in which he ruminates over his past and his childhood memories. His sufferings, his struggles, his pathos, his burdens, his pleasant memories, etc are expressed throughout his poetry. “Obituary”, “Black Hen”, “Three Dreams”, etc are some of his personal poetry.

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